Schechter Rabbinical Seminary Welcomes New Rabbinical Student: Ukraine’s Lev Kleyman


Last month a new rabbi began training with the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary. His name is Lev Kleyman (Лев Клейман). He started his training from his home in Chernivtsi, Ukraine.

Lev is the beloved community leader of Kehillat Aviv, Chernivtsi’s Jewish community supported by Midreshet Schechter and its partner Masorti Olami.

Lev Kleyman with Hanukkah care packages in Chernivtsi

“Everyone in Chernivtsi already tells me I am like the rabbi…doing everything that the community needs,” laughs Lev. “I do everything for the community except for the huppa!”

As part of his entry into the rabbinical training program, Lev was one of three people chosen to take part in an intensive Talmud program held in Chernivtsi just after Purim.

“To be a rabbi I need to learn. Here, not enough people know Hebrew and it will be good for me to the rabbi for Chernivtsi,” he says.

Lev Kleyman in foreground studying Talmud at intensive seminar

Lev is no stranger to pluralistic Judaism.

He is a graduate of the city’s TALI school. He was a camper and later a senior staff member at Camp Ramah Yachad. He speaks Hebrew, having lived in Israel before moving back with his wife and children to Ukraine and is quickly learning the Aramaic of Jewish texts.

“Despite his physically being in Chernivtsi, we have fully integrated him into our study program,” notes SRS Dean Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutsch.

Kleyman reports, “I currently have private lessons with Rabbi Avi, and am learning prayer and reading trope with Saralee Shrell-Fox (Schechter’s Ba’alat Tefilla teacher). This is a lot of fun.”

“As with many of our students, we are building a personalized curriculum for him,” continues Rabbi Avi. “Currently this means providing a background course enabling him to further develop his textual and language skills and via zoom one academic course with other rabbinic students.”

Kleyman admits, “The lessons in classrooms with many students and with professors are very hard.” He is sure that as his Hebrew and Aramaic improves, his learning will likewise expand.

Over the last few years, Schechter has fostered this type of creative programming because students could not always learn in the actual Beit Midrash located in Jerusalem.

Development of personalized curriculums generates closer relationships between students and teachers.

“The intensive efforts for creating and implementing personalized learning is a result of teacher and student cooperation,” states Dean Novis-Deutsch. “We need to have both sides ‘buy-in’ to the effort to produce the intensity of rabbinic studies.”

“Today, walk into the Beit Midrash and one can see some students one-on-one in a chevruta while a teacher is videoconferencing with a long-distance learning student,” says Rabbi Avi.

As an activist and the professional leader of Kehillat Aviv, Lev has been tending the flock of Jewish residents and Jewish for a number of years. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, he has been handling more and more work as Jewish and non-Jewish refugees streamed into the city. His job is never-ending.

“People from Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odessa were stranded and had no idea where they were. I would bring them back to Chernivtsi,” comments Kleyman. During the earlier stages of the war, he would regularly find people on the streets or get calls from people stuck outside of town without basic needs. He went into action bringing them back to the Kehillah and rendering assistance.

Kleyman says he is no hero.

In a story from the aggadot (folk tales), Lev was instrumental in the community obtaining a permanent Aron Kodesh (Torah Ark). Lev proved himself a tsaddik.

A family found him via social media after having been dropped off by a smuggler two hours from Chernivtsi. The smuggler told them that they were already over the border. However, they were really still in Ukraine. Lev drove two hours to find them and two hours back to the city. Only during the drive did Lev discover they were Jewish and the father an architect.

Lev set up the family in an apartment rented by the Kehillah. Afterward, the father asked how he could repay them. Lev told them about his dream to obtain a real Aron Kodesh to replace the temporary one they had been using. Days later, the father provided an architectural drawing and further helped the Kehilla find professionals to build, paint and place the Aron Kodesh in the Kehillah’s building.

“I am convinced that Elohim had a hand in the project,” admits Lev.

Lev with new, permanent Aron Kodesh

“Lev is the glue that is keeping everything stay together and helps the Kehillah prosper,” says Midreshet Schechter’s Executive Director Rabbi Irina Gritsevskaya who travelled to Chernivtsi and Ukraine numerous times prior to and during the Russian invasion.

“Lev combines a wide variety of tools with an open personality and an ability to find solutions in every situation. He is perfect rabbi material,” adds Rabbi Irina.

Kleyman wasn’t sure that he wanted to be a rabbi and as a humble person, he is not doing it for a grandiose purpose. He is doing it for the community, his Kehilla.

“All these years we have been without a rabbi, and this means that our Kehilla is not, and could not be complete.” Realizing he could not let this continue, led him, “To realize someone needs to be a rabbi and I want to step up to the role.”

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